Jan 29, 2007 (MOGADISHU) — An hourlong gunbattle in Somalia’s restive capital has killed two people, raising fears that the government’s tenuous grip on power is not enough to safeguard this notoriously violent city as powerful troops from neighboring Ethiopia pull out.
The battle started after gunmen attacked police in northern Mogadishu. It was not immediately clear whether the victims were civilians.
“The gunmen ran away after reinforcements arrived to help the police,” said Ifah Ahmed Ali, who witnessed Sunday’s attack in northern Mogadishu.
Two police stations were hit Saturday with machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades, wounding five people.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia will pull a third of its troops out of Somalia within the next two days, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Sunday. He did not say how many troops had been in the country since late December, helping the Somali government drive out a radical Islamic militia that ruled much of southern Somalia for six months.
Somalia’s government has been putting more soldiers on the streets this week, as Ethiopian troops — whose military strength was crucial in ousting the Council of Islamic Courts — withdraw.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari has blamed the spate of recent violence on the Islamic council, which has vowed to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war from its hiding places. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The withdrawal of Ethiopia, which says it cannot afford to stay in Somalia, raises a sense of urgency for the arrival of a proposed African peacekeeping force. The African Union has approved a plan to send about 8,000 peacekeepers for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the U.N.
South Africa dashed hopes Friday that it would contribute to a peacekeeping force in Somalia, with Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota saying the country’s forces already were overstretched. Nigeria, Malawi and Uganda have said they want to contribute troops, but no firm plans are in place.
Over the weekend, 23 people accused of supporting the Islamic courts arrived in Mogadishu after being arrested in Kenya. Dinari said Sunday that the wives of three “terrorists” were among them.
Many Somalis resent the Ethiopian presence: the countries fought a war in 1977. But without Ethiopia’s tanks and fighter jets, the Somali government could barely assert control outside one town and could not enter the capital, Mogadishu, which was ruled by the Council of Islamic Courts. The U.S. accused the group of having ties to al-Qaida.